The G-d Name “HaMakom” is used in the traditional Jewish expression of sympathy to one who has lost a loved one.
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
HaMakom yenachem etchem betoch sh’ar aveilei Tziyon V’Yerushalayim
HaMakom will comfort you among the mourners of Zion & Jerusalem
This Article appears in the September 2011 edition of “The Community Letter,” Louisville’s regional LBGT printed news outlet. I find it fitting that this article was published days after my Mother’s death. She was 51 years old. My selfish hope is that I may truly be comforted by HaMakom– that the achy hole my Mother’s absence owns will be puttied by the Comforter of Israel.
The Community Letter may be accessed online at http://www.theletteronline.com
HaMakom – The God of This Place
And I came upon the place, and stayed there… I lay down in that place to sleep… And I dreamt a dream… a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and there were angels of G-d going up and going down…I awakened out of sleep, saying: ‘Surely The Eternal is in this place; and I did not know it…How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.’
(Adapted from translation of Genesis 28, Jewish Publication Society)
In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) God has many names. One of the names that I find fascinating is the name HaMakom which literally means “The Place.” This special name comes to us out of a famous story about Jacob as he encounters God in a vision.
Jacob has stumbled upon a place he does not know. Jacob is tired, as he has been running from his personal failings. The sun is setting. Jacob is exhausted; he sleeps, he has a dream, and he awakens a changed person. What he encounters, the biblical narrator reports, is God. He becomes transformed by an awareness that God was there, right where he wandered- where he placed his head to sleep.
Perhaps none of us have had visions of heavenly bodies moving up and down a celestial staircase. But, like Jacob, I am sure that many of us have lived through feelings of disappointment, frustrating situations, and family difficulties. Jacob is unaware of the drama and splendor that is about to unfold as he lies down to sleep; he simply expects to continue his journey at dawn.
Religious teachers, preachers, and rabbis often focus on the significance of the dream Jacob has in That Place- I can’t say that I blame them. The vision is a spectacular one, but I fear it is not really the most important portion of the story.
I think the narrator is trying to teach us something about ourselves and about God. It is as if that narrator invites us to a place, of unspecified geography, and says, God is here.
Sometimes we live lives devoid of any expectation of splendor. We expect nothing more than to continue our daily chores, pay our bills, and plan the next day. Tomorrow we begin again, meeting that day’s needs—maybe working towards a goal– looking forward to that special vacation. We continue the daily grind; forgetting there is more to the journey. But there is more- this story invites us to an awareness of the sacredness in our lives. It speaks to us of in familiar and reassuring terms affirming the lesson’s truth- God is in this place.
Lately I feel like I need this message; perhaps you feel similarly. We may be in a desert of isolation; cut off from our family. We may be overwhelmed by schoolwork, or office politics. Perhaps even, we are facing personal demons and struggling to chart a new course for our lives. Whatever we face, we may learn from this ancient story something of who God is and what the Sacred Reality can mean for us.
This special name of God– HaMakom- The Place is both a concrete and elusive name; it is flexible but also rigid. This name is a physical and emotional presence; and that presence is our own.
God is The Place where you mourn your loved one’s death;
God is The Place where you came out of the closet to yourself, family, and friends;
God is The Place where you restored a broken trust;
and God is That Place where you greeted a stranger with a smile.
I hope that the crowded and exhausting highways of life are eased by rest-stops of HaMakom; that within us and around us we are able to encounter Sacredness- and that this encounter changes us.